“You have to walk the 3 miles from Yankee Stadium to Central Park to burn off the calories from one 20oz. soda,” read one of the posters in a New York City subway car.
In an attempt to offset the obesity epidemic, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has installed such posters to urge New Yorkers to be mindful of their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Rachel Knopf, the Health Educator at the New School and a registered dietitian, has mixed feelings about the effectiveness of these posters. “I think there is a fine line between knowledge and fear tactics, which don’t work,” she said. According to Knopf, the Student Health Service’s has a “health at every size” approach to making nutritional advice. By recognizing that diets only work in the short term, she argues that the focus should be to alter one’s actions and eating habits rather than fixating on one’s size. Furthermore, Knopf believes in giving nutritional recommendations based on individuals’ economic means.
“One major issue is that many college students do not know how to plan meals or to make time to shop and cook,” she said. Instead, students often rely on eating prepackaged foods or eating out. For a year and a half, Knopf spearheaded the “Beyond Ramen” program to try to teach New School students how to cook. Though the events themselves are only two hours long, the preparation work for the food demonstrations took up eight hours of her time. In the end, the program was discontinued. “No one showed up,” said Knopf.
However, the Student Health Services is still pushing its efforts in providing students with the skills needed to lead a healthy lifestyle. Last month, they hosted a cooking demonstration in the basement of the Stuyvesant Park dorms, and students learned how to make seafood paella and smoothies.
On a Sunday night, Shannon Swimm, a freshman at Eugene Lang College, finally found the time to go grocery shopping and cook for herself. She spent $30 on groceries at Trader Joe’s and made herself lasagna and salad. Swimm finds it hard to have a well-balanced diet, and she usually eats what is the most “quick and filling.”
“For breakfast, I just drink tea,” Swimm said, “but by lunch time I’m starving so I’m willing to go wherever to eat whatever.” She has no time to prepare food at dinnertime either, for she has to do homework.
Swimm finds the posters about the health threats posed by sugar-sweetened beverages a little ridiculous. “I try not to pay attention to them and take it at face value,” she said. Swimm would rather take nutritional advice from the New School nutritionist than from the Department of Health because she feels that a nutritional would cater specifically to the individual and their needs and goals.